"While this literal battle rages—with tear gassing militias on one side and kneeling protestors on the other—the rhetorical one does as well." - Race Class Narrative Action
Elevating the truth behind peaceful protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin & Portland, Oregon
There has been a lot of misinformation around the protests in Kenosha, Wis, following the incident involving a Kenosha police officer shooting 29-year-old Jacob Blake seven times in the back. Similarly, conflicting narratives are spreading about the nightly protests in Portland, Oregon since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Framing matters more than ever today. Protesters are constantly fighting against opposition parties who want to steal the narrative as badly as they want to steal people's freedom. In a time where almost anything can be misconstrued or misinterpreted, it's important to craft clear, concise, and strong messages that have no room for possible distortion by the conservative media.
History is currently being written, and it is essential that it is lined with the truth. Speaking truth to power is an uphill battle, one that has to be fought online, on air, and on the streets in today's America.
Seizing the story of what is happening during the peaceful protests is as necessary as the act of protesting itself. Protestors must make clear the reasons behind events unfolding in order to have their messages and solutions seem both obvious and worth battling for.
Use videos to train protestors on 'framing' conversations
Race Class Narrative Action consists of organizers and advocates, communications strategists and researchers, trainers and ad writers who mobilize our progressive base for racial justice, gender equality and economic prosperity while persuading any and every person in the middle that our vision of pluralistic democracy is the way to bettering their lives. They teamed with ASO Communications to produce "Messaging This Moment". This messaging guide explains how to frame discussions on policing, protests and racial injustice to share the truth and build support for their movement.
Training works better when offered in a form that works best for the recipient. Text, podcasts and video. DemLabs created a three minute training video based training for "Messaging The Moment". The video was transcribed in English and also translated into Spanish. The project took six hours to complete using mostly iMovie (a free app) and YouTube.
"If our words don't spread, they don't work."
Controlling the narrative around the peaceful protests calls for relentless repetition that requires speaking effectively on issues of race, gender and class.
The Race Class Narrative Action crafted this guide to "offer high level suggestions for activating the broadest possible range of support for desired policy solutions, inoculating against our opposition’s narrative, and contending with the understandable despondency we cannot risk from our base."
Here are some full sample narratives and rebuttals to common objections that we pulled from the Race Class Narrative Action's guide:
Frame demands in terms of creating desirable end states as opposed to eliminating present-day harms:
- Instead of “end police violence,” say, “make this a place where everyone can safely walk our streets” or “ensure that those sworn to serve and protect us honor their oath."
Disaggregate terms and use precise language
- Instead of using the blanket term “violence” that unhelpfully equates property destruction and harm to humans, get specific with terms like “police brutality” “police repression” “military force” “murder” “maiming” and, conversely, “harms to property” “damage to objects” and “taking goods.”
- Similarly, terminology like “outside agitators” is dangerously opaque; it also has its origins in othering people who protest, people of color in particular. Indeed, this is now bandied about on both sides of this conversation. Instead, use the most specific terms possible that accurately characterize the real culprits in the given situation—e.g. white nationalists, white vigilantes, armed Trump loyalists, etc
Pivot when possible toward a future-orientation
- People reason much more progressively about the future, especially in terms of what they want to see for kids and grandkids, then they do about the present. Forcing people to consider how they want to be remembered for their actions or what they want to come of all this can help shift them toward our approaches and solutions.
SHOW not tell
- For example, instead of saying “these protests are about X” say “across our country, people are coming together for X.”
- In lieu of “what this is about is defending Black life” say “people of good conscience are demanding that we respect and honor Black lives.” Describe what people are doing toward the goals rather than simply stating the goals alone.
Don't inadvertently reinforce the opposition’s narrative
- Quotations like “a riot is the language of the unheard” actually accepts the premise that events unfolding can be characterized as a “riot.” They can’t.
- While the impulse to offer instances of corporate “looting” (and they’re seemingly infinite) makes sense, it still bolsters the conversation about looting itself. And, given the opposition’s megaphone, our signal isn’t likely to break through this noise.
- Instead, weave in the truth about how the 1% fuel divisions to create the cover they need to rig the rules and take the wealth our work creates.
Don't dismiss or diminish the justified emotions of this moment
- Directing people to just vote, while understandable, is ill-timed and unlikely to have any desirable impact. It is definitely critical to talk about voting — but never in the context of a substitution for or condemnation of current direct action.
Scripted Truthful Rebuttals to Common Misinformed Claims
When they say….
“Destroying property and stealing isn’t the way to protest.”
We may have concerns about seeing things taken or broken, but there is no object on earth of the value of a human life. Focusing in on things and not people is a distraction from what matters and a barrier to pursuing equal justice for all. Until we see and value Black people as equally worthy of respect as everyone else, people of good conscience should be outraged.
When they say…
“The way we make change is by voting. All of these people out in the street should just focus on voter turnout.”
Voting is critical, and the people organizing protests today are the ones making calls, sending texts and registering voters the rest of the year. We must do both. A ballot cannot stop a bullet. To cast your vote, you have to be alive to do it.
When they say….
“This is going to cost us the election. This is just handing things over to Trump.”
We have come together to stand up for the promise of justice for all, demanding an end to brutality against Black people, precisely because we know the existential importance of this election. We know that Trump came to power by dividing us from each other based off of what we look like, where we come from, or how we live. He tries to get us to blame someone else from Black people to new immigrants, first responders to Governors, to cover up his failures and keep handing kickbacks to the 1%. The only way to defeat Trump is to help people realize that as long as he is distracting us by blaming someone else, his corporate friends can pick our pockets.
When they say…
“There’s no point to doing anything. They just keep killing us/Black people.”
Your anger and despair are absolutely understandable. And, if you look under the cover the powerful few use to keep us from demanding better, these are also times of extraordinary courage and progress. People from all walks of life are coming together to demand change, just as people did in our past for everything from civil rights to unions and marriage equality to voting. All of the gains we have ever made have come from people refusing to accept that what is true today seals our fate for tomorrow. We must use every tool available from marching to voting to make this a country we can be proud to call home.